I profess that I am not an HR expert, however, I have mentored and given career advice to many folks around the globe. The most common question I get and contemplate myself is, does career specialization impact your market value.
In Adam Smith’s pin factory, he poetically describes how specialization and division of labor give rise to economies of scale and made mass production a possibility leading to consumerism which is the ideal capitalistic manifestation of the American Dream we are currently trying to export to China and the world!. The model in a nutshell goes as follows: you have got to buy stuff. Lots of it. Go in debt doing so. Why? So you can promote mass production, consumerism and division of labor, economies of scale thus working for the rest of your life to pay down your debt, and you get the picture.
The question remains though, how deep should our specialized skills be? And how does it affect our income? A colleague of mine beautifully stated once that our skills are similar to the letter T. The horizontal top is your general skills, and the vertical portion is your specialization. When I went for my Masters’ Degree in Economics he told me that my new skills resemble the letter n or the Greek Pi (Π) where I have two in-depth specialization.
So, which letter should your skills resemble and which one is most lucrative these days? If you are the T type and specialize in a niche market, say stored procedures on mainframe DB2, then you are in a different league than say a Java developer. The problem: It’s easy to outsource your job. Why? It’s too specialized to a degree that it is easily definable. The same goes for just about the majority of such types with clear-cut division of labor and specialization and a uniform job description.
Now, if you are the Pi (Π) type, where you multi-specialize, then it will be harder but not impossible for you to be indispensable. Remember, we operate in a labor market without borders where you can hire five for the price of one or two.
So, what’s the answer? In my opinion:
- In the age of globalization, with
- A highly outsourced corporate functions,
- Large wage gaps in an global labor pool (for now anyway)
- And outsourcing companies buying local outfits to assimilate and “look and feel” more local thus expanding market share while maintain a small local presence
Your best bet is to have either models, the (Π) or the T type with an extended horizontal top implying more generalized skills which include great soft skills, deep local knowledge, social capital through networking and most importantly working in a hard-to-define jobs with vague requirements and responsibilities where you have to wear many hats (think Startups). Finally, add a Security clearance requirement and you have the proverbial cherry on top!!